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Students chronicle their troubled world

The cover of the Amplifier, a magazine produced by students from 15 high schools in Montgomery County, Md., and published in June.
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In the vitriolic national debate about what can and can’t be taught in public schools, parents’ rights and public funding of religious education, it’s easy to forget that many students at many schools across the country routinely do amazing work.

One way to see that is to look at high school student newspapers and magazines, some of which are exceptional in their writing, art and design. You can see some of the best high school newspapers here, finalists for the National Scholastic Press Association’s annual Pacemaker awards.

In that vein, I am publishing parts of two exceptional publications produced by high school students in Maryland’s Montgomery County Public Schools that have in common their faculty sponsor, David Lopilato of Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School (BCC). One of the publications is an all-county magazine produced by students from 15 high schools in the district, and the other is BCC’s final edition of its student newspaper.

Lopilato has been a popular mentor to journalism students for more than a dozen years, known for encouraging them to explore their world and do their best work, as well as for his propensity to work overtime and spend some of his own money to help journalism endeavors at the school.

He oversaw an effort to revive the print edition of the Tattler, the student newspaper at BCC, which was first published nearly a century go. Below you can read the last edition of the Tattler for the 2021-2022 school year, which is “retro”-themed, comparing the current student generation with past ones, and features impressive art.

One story looks at the drug culture at BCC and how it has changed over time. There is also a deep look by Tattler editors and writers Bennett Galper and Katherine Jones at a wave of teacher departures. They sent a survey to every teacher at BCC to find out the reason for this wave, and published some of the responses, including “scripted curriculum, endless data collection and nonstop testing.” The story reports that within the school district, the largest in Maryland, the resignation/retirement rate for teachers approximately doubled from last year to this year — a problem facing districts across the country.

Lopilato also brought together student journalists from BCC and 14 other Montgomery high schools to produce magazines filled with writing and art and poetry that explore teens’ challenges and struggles.

In 2021, students from across the district produced a magazine called Coming of Age in a Pandemic, which you can see here and which offered insights about the impact of the disruption to schooling caused by the coronavirus. This month, students from 15 high schools published the Amplifier — parts of which you can read below — a 100-page magazine that is organized around a day in the life of a high school student and includes sections on hate, covid and “redefining our generation.” It includes a first-person piece by a student from Afghanistan who writes about the collapse of his country, a piece on gun violence, and one titled “The Toxicity of Teen Political Discourse.”

The Amplifier was created by student journalists from BCC and these Montgomery high schools: James Hubert Blake, Winston Churchill, Damascus, Albert Einstein, Walter Johnson, John F. Kennedy, Col. Zadok Magruder, Richard Montgomery, Northwest, Quince Orchard, Paint Branch, Watkins Mill, Walt Whitman, and Thomas Wootton.

Here is an editorial the Amplifier’s editors wrote explaining their work:

It was August 2021 when we were selected to lead The Amplifier, the countywide student journalism magazine of Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland. For some of us, it was a “do it for college” kind of thing. You know, something that would look good on a college application supplemental. Then, the 2021-2022 school year happened.
We all expected turbulence returning to full-time, in-person school after the pandemic, but we did not expect violence to drag MCPS onto the evening news night after night. We knew mental health was on the decline among teens, but we could not imagine it would take classmates from us.
In April, we learned from the CDC that 44% of American teens feel persistently hopeless (up from 26% in 2009). Less than a month later, we watched in horror as an 18 year-old killed 10 in a Buffalo supermarket. A week later, another 18 year-old killed 19 children and 2 adults at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. What seemed like a “nice” thing to do back in August is now clearly a public safety imperative.
While our heads spin, trying to make sense of what happened on the same day (June 23rd) in Congress and the Supreme Court in terms of gun legislation, there is something each of us can do right now.
Listen to teens.
It is the right thing to do: morally, psychologically, and for the greater well-being.
Listen to teens.
We are not trying to be sensational or alarmist. However, if almost half of teens are feeling persistently hopeless, an unbearable number (i.e. any number greater than zero) of teens are at risk of doing harm to themselves or others.
We either listen to teenagers or we are in for a world of hurt.
America clearly understands the power of teen voices. In 2018, we crowded the streets of D.C. for March for Our Lives to hear David Hogg and Emma “X” González, Stoneman Douglas survivors, and gun control activists.
Yet, America fails to provide a consistent platform for teen voices.
Assembling The Amplifier, we realized that print journalism is a luxury restricted more and more to schools in higher-income zip codes, leaving too many without a voice. The Amplifier aims to change that narrative.
Over the past three months, we assembled a team of talented writers, editors, and artists representing 15 schools in Montgomery County.
We applaud MCPS for having our back, agreeing to finance the printing of thousands of copies of The Amplifier, with no censorship whatsoever.
They have made it possible for The Amplifier to be a magazine purely for student expression: free of cost, free of advertisement, and free of spin.
This edition of the magazine is organized around a day in the life of a high school student. Each chapter chronicles a different point of the day: the hallway, class, lunch, a party, etc.
If those in power refuse to give students a platform, we will do it ourselves. This edition of The Amplifier tells the story of students and pushes their voices to center stage. It is a platform where student voices and concerns can be communicated, where their opinions can be heard en masse, where they are represented, expressed, and most importantly… Amplified.

The editors are Aaron Tiao, Michael Shapiro, Josh Garber, Gabe Gebrekristose, Elyas Laubach and Nathaniel Schrader — all of BCC; Katherine Comer and Sofia Norberte of Blake; Madison Sherman of Quince Orchard; Samantha Wu of Richard Montgomery; and Sophie Hummel of Walt Whitman.

The Tattler edition below is the last under the sponsorship of Lopilato. He is leaving the journalism program to head a new endeavor at BCC, a Cultural Studies Certificate program that will be multidisciplinary and has already signed up some 80 students. The first project will be creating a museum-like tour of a fictional factory that has created teen identity over the past century.

Over the summer, Lopilato and colleagues are teaching journalism to girls and women in Afghanistan via Zoom. Twenty-five girls who can’t go to school in their country have signed up and will take part in creating a publication in which they explain, among other things, what it is like not to have a school, he said.

Here’s a preview of the Amplifier.

Here’s the final edition of the Tattler for the school year:

Final by Valerie Strauss on Scribd